Q-Racing Blog: Time is on Their Side

The brightest lights take time to reach their maximum shine.

Q-Racing Journal

The brightest lights take time to reach their maximum shine.

The death of Noconi earlier this month commands another tip of the cap to the elder warriors in racing and their connections who were patient and allowed the horse to reach its God-given talent.

It doesn’t happen often enough.

“Absolutely, there are horses out there that would do well if given more time,” said Lisa Saumell. “We need more races for older horses.” Saumell runs the New Mexico division of the Paul Jones stable and managed Noconi’s 33 starts in New Mexico.

 
Noconi, pictured with his owners and breeders, Johnny
Jones
and R.D. Hubbard, in the week before his
retirement from racing.
PHOTO: Ty Wyant

Owned and bred by R.D. Hubbard and Johnny T.L. Jones Jr., Noconi was put down after a battle with laminitis. He retired after the 2012 season and moved to Jones’ J Bar 7 Ranch in Quanah, Texas. His pasture mate became champion and all-time leading money earner Ochoa.

“Noconi and Ochoa were paddock buddies, but Ochoa didn’t care,” said Jones.

The two champions lived the good life. All retired horses should have it so good.

Noconi developed laminitis and got the best of veterinary care, including T-cell therapy, and attention from Jones and his wife Brenda.

“She was just wonderful,” said Saumell.

Finally, it got to the point that Noconi was having trouble getting up and the fateful decision was made.

A son of Mr Jess Perry and 2008 broodmare of the year My Dashing Lady, Noconi thrived as an older racehorse. He did not win his maiden until his All American Derby trial in August of his sophomore season.

Noconi was winless from six starts at 2, however he was a close second in his final two starts, including the Hobbs America Futurity (G2). He was a colt and acted the part.

“When we first got him, he would just scream in his stall and then would scream in the saddling paddock,” said Saumell. “Then when he was screaming in the paddock one time, Mr. Hubbard said ‘Geld him.’ ”

That ultimate equipment change occurred after his juvenile season. It worked.

Jones said that Noconi had trouble in the gate and improved when he figured out “that racing thing. It was frustrating, but that’s the horse biz.” Saumell added that he had “attention issues. He was more interested in the horses next to him (in the starting gate).”

After a winter’s rest, Noconi came back in the Ruidoso Derby trials. He was second in his Ruidoso and Rainbow derby trials and finished third in each Grade 1 derby.

Noconi stepped up in the All American Derby trials when he covered the 440 yards in :20.983 for the top qualifying mark and, finally, winning his maiden.

The All American Derby became his hallmark race. He was up against strong favorite Heartswideopen. Champion and All American Futurity (G1) winner Heartswideopen was coming off wins in the Ruidoso Derby and the Rainbow Derby and chasing the Ruidoso Downs’ derby triple crown. She went to the front and Noconi ran a gutty race to win by a head. He earned $532,825 for that victory.

 
 Noconi. PHOTO: Andrea Caudill

Noconi earned $722,899 at 3, $161,360 at 4 and $300,585 at 5 on his way to career earnings of $1,348,900. He was 2008’s champion 3-year-old gelding and the 2010 champion aged gelding.

“There are horses that are born racehorses and you just need to let them grow into themselves,” said Saumell. “He was really smart. He knew his routine and knew which days he was going out to gallop. The first jock that arrived (at the barn) on days he was going to gallop had better be headed Noconi’s way. He had his head out and looking.

“He liked his job and became a gentleman when he got older,” she continued. “He got older and wiser. We figured out his quirks and he was pleasant to be around.”

Noconi’s development into a champion has precedent. World champion Charger Bar earned $11,325 as a 2-year-old and retired with $495,437 in 1970-75 dollars. World champion Sgt Pepper Feature won his maiden in December (his seventh start) of his juvenile year and then went on to win 11 more races in succession. He won the Golden State Futurity, Golden State Derby, Los Alamitos Derby and Dash For Cash Derby on his way to earning $900,240. He retired to become an adored American Quarter Horse representative in the Hall of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park.

“People in those kind of horses’ lives are fortunate to have them,” said Saumell.

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